Hampshire College Board Chair Steps Down As School Ponders Future

Apr 1, 2019

The head of the board of trustees at Hampshire College has stepped down. 

The move comes as the Amherst, Massachsuetts, college continues to look for what it calls a "strategic partner" amid a shaky financial future. 

Saying she's become a lightning rod for criticism, Gaye Hill said now's the right time to leave the board.

"Since we set out on a most difficult path to secure Hampshire’s future, we’ve encountered a range of emotions and reactions," Hill said in a statement released by the school. "I’ve heard bewilderment, fear, and disagreement from some quarters, and from others, support and understanding for our having taken decisive action at a most critical time. These were expected."

Hill continued: "What I didn’t expect was the vitriol, slanderous attacks, and the questioning of motives that have been leveled at not only me but at colleagues who have been working months on end with one goal in mind: to bring Hampshire through the worst financial crisis in its history."

For Hampshire alumni Jason Cilo, Hill's departure shouldn't change much when it comes to what ends up happening at the school.

Cilo did express frustration about how the school has handled the situation.

"I do think it's ironic," he said, "that in a moment when the college's lack of a contemporary digital public relations response has caused an additional problem — on top of the very real fiscal crisis the college is facing — that the chairman of the board of trustees, in her departure letter, cites online vitriol as the reason for her departure."

Another Hampshire graduate and member of the school's alumni advisory board, Stephanie Allen, said attacks on social media aren't helping the school find a solution to its financial problems.

"A lot of it hasn't been terribly constructive," Allen said. "The alumni feel like they aren't being heard, and that makes them really angry, and I think a lot of people have been handling their anger somewhat inappropriately."

Hill will be replaced as chair by Luis Hernandez, formerly the board's vice chair, and a member of Hampshire's first-ever class.

Hernandez and the new vice chair, Kim Saal, praised Hill in a letter to the college's community, and looked ahead.

"As we move into this next phase of our work to bring about a sustainable future for Hampshire, we'll keep our focus, engage the working groups and the community at large, and continue to communicate with you about our progress," Hill and Saal wrote. 

As the search for a partner continues, the school announced this year it was admitting a much smaller than usual class for the fall, and laying off some staff.